Bridging the Gap

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Yesterday, I discussed how digital cameras, and especially those embedded in ubiquitous everyday devices like iPhone or Android, are slowly getting good enough to constitute a real threat to high-end camera makers (the consumer maker market has already been decimated), with the Bentley commercial as exhibit A.

This morning, upon opening Facebook, I saw the first "Suggested Post" that I actually opened: an ad for the "Optrix PhotoProX". The PhotoProX, or PPX, is a package of high-quality add-on lenses for the iPhone that provide macro, fisheye, low-profile and telephoto, as well  as a drop-proof and water-proof case that, of course, works with the lenses. Needless to say, it also comes with protective packaging for the lenses.

High-end cameras are composed of two parts:

  • High-quality image capture device, formerly film, nowadays just a CCD or CMOS sensor in the digital camera
  • High-quality optics

While the optics in smartphones by Apple, Samsung, HTC and others have gotten progressively better, the physical limitations of the size preclude including all of the potential optics capabilities that exist in interchangeable lenses. Even if they could, the additional component cost, even if only $50-75 USD, simply would not be worth it. The overwhelming majority of smartphone consumers would not pay the additional cost, and certainly not with manufacturers' margins on top.

Companies like Optrix are bridging the gap. While an iPhone camera has good enough optics and more-than-good-enough image capture - along with onboard processing that never existed before in "just" cameras - additional optics are necessary to be used in the pro, semi-pro or "prosumer" markets. Products like PPX are there to bridge the gap. In the truly higher-end markets, more expensive lenses are available, but even at 3-4x the $150 of the PPX is a bargain compared to what existed before.

Take apart all of the features that make a high-end product unique, and you can slowly replace it, one-by-one.